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Zwingli's Return

The Reformation begins with a farewell: 500 years ago, after the Battle of Marignano, Ulrich Zwingli left Glarus. He returned once again, bringing a revolution with him.

They scratched St. Catherine's face. They pierce St. Anthony's eyes. They even gouged out the eyes of the little piglet accompanying him. In 1528, in a fury, the Schwanders destroyed their altarpieces, which they had been worshipping shortly before. When they had finished with them, they threw the images of the saints into the Linth.


Someone fishes the pictures out of the river in Mitlödi. Otherwise they would probably have been lost forever. Today, the damaged altarpieces from Schwanden hang in the Museum of Glarus in the Freuler Palace. They bear witness to the time when a priest from Glarus plunged the Confederates into a civil war that divided Switzerland and Glarus in two, and himself in four.


Zwingli's return


On October 12, 1522, Ulrich Zwingli returns to Glarus, which he had left six years earlier. His former Latin pupil Valentin Tschudi celebrates his debut as pastor of Glarus. Zwingli preaches once again in the town church for his sake. Just as he had done for ten years, from 1506 to 1516. The people of Glarus quickly realized that this was no longer their old pastor standing in the pulpit. This is a revolutionary. Zwingli told the people of Glarus that what he had preached to them for ten years was not the truth.


The young pastor of Mollis, Fridolin Brunner, is probably also sitting in the audience and listening carefully. He too was probably a student of Zwingli's Latin. Brunner will go down in history as the reformer of the Glarus region. His success was not just about religion. It was also about money and power, about rich against poor.


Zwingli moves to Marignano with the Glarners


In Zwingli's time, the Glarus region had two significant sources of income: the cattle trade and the human trade. The cattle and people usually crossed the Alps and were slaughtered in Italy - the cows in the slaughterhouses, the people on the battlefields.


The rich Glarus families are systematically buying up the Alps at home. There are too many underemployed young men. They stuff their pants and leave to knock heads in a foreign country. Some set off on their own, many are recruited. The captains make the big money. They collect so-called pensions from the foreign rulers so that they can hire Glarner as mercenaries - often these are simply bribes.


Zwingli also joins the Glarnese as a field preacher in the Milan Wars. He was a supporter of the Pope, who was allied with the Confederates. At Marignano in 1515, he witnessed how the Confederates were massacred in a hail of French cannon fire. The devastating defeat left a deep impression on Zwingli. In his collection of proverbs, he inscribed the sentence: "War seems sweet to the ignorant". After the lost battle of Marignano, Zwingli was still firmly on the side of the Pope. However, the majority in Glarus tilted in favor of the French king. He offered the Swiss a deal. The "intrigues of the friends of France" made it seem smarter for Zwingli to get out of the way. After his return from Italy, Zwingli took a leave of absence as a pastor and moved to Einsiedeln in 1516. The very next year, the two Glarus bailiffs Tschudi and Luchsinger ride to Bern to collect the first pension from the French king.


The rich don't want the Reformation, they can only lose


In Einsiedeln, Zwingli openly opposes mercenarism. He calls the profiteers of the system war-mongers, crown-eaters, butchers and blood-letters. "If you shake them, ducats and crowns fall out, and if you twist them, your son's, brother's, father's or good friend's blood runs out," wrote Zwingli. In 1519, he was appointed lieutenant priest in Zurich. Probably precisely because of his attitude towards mercenarism. For the lords of Glarus, who earned their money through war, Zwingli and his growing band of followers became a business threat.


Zwingli becomes radicalized and soon preaches in Zurich against the sale of indulgences, which offers salvation for money. Heaven thus became affordable for all. And in Zurich, under Zwingli, the church's money was spent on caring for the poor instead of buying expensive relics. Even then, the people of Glarus looked to Zurich: they were well aware of the revolution that their old pastor was instigating in the city on the Limmat. The Reformation first spread to the poor villages of Glarus: in Betschwanden, Matt, Schwanden on the Kerenzer and in Mollis, the first reformed pastors were already preaching in Glarus a year after Zwingli's appearance in 1522. They no longer hold mass. And many of them were young, only in their mid-twenties. These pastors played an important role in the Glarus Reformation. Because very few people in Glarus could read Zwingli's writings, which were printed in Zurich. And those Glarner who could read had money. And those who have money do not want a revolution. The rich families in the large towns rejected the Reformation.


The two best-known pastors in Glarus are Fridolin Brunner in Mollis and Valentin Tschudi in Glarus, Zwingli's former pupils. Brunner was a zealous reformer and later also preached in Matt, Betschwanden and Glarus. He strictly adhered to Zwingli's advice.


Valentin Tschudi was Zwingli's favorite pupil. But as a reformer, he was a disappointment. As parish priest of Glarus, he was so intent on achieving a balance that he said Catholic mass in the morning and preached the Reformation in the afternoon. Brunner acts as Tschudi's assistant pastor in 1527. He writes about his boss to Zwingli in Zurich: "If the people of Glarus are still weak, the blame lies with Valentin's sermon."


The Reformed? "God have mercy!"


The Catholics seem to be able to live with the part-time reformed Tschudi. Not so with Brunner: the old-faith captain and mercenary leader Kaspar Gallati allegedly wanted to stab him at the church door. And Fridolin Bäldi, the clerk of the village who has remained Catholic, disparagingly calls Brunner "the Pfäffly". Bäldi notes to those who have fallen away from the old faith: "God have mercy!"


The relationship between the growing number of new believers and the old believers is heated. The Catholic-dominated council throws three Reformed pastors out of the country after a rumor spreads that a Catholic mob wants to kidnap them. Not that the Reformed are squeamish. They were fundamentalists - only what was written in the Bible counted, preached Zwingli. Images and relics are the devil's stuff. During his time as pastor, Zwingli himself saw to it that a chapel was built next to the town church to house a piece of the Holy Cross in a dignified manner. All that has to go now.


In 1528, iconoclasm occurs repeatedly in the Glarus region. The first pyre burned in front of Brunner's church in Matt. Under his supervision, they burn the images of the saints, which they have recently bought at great expense. They used the altar shrine to make boxes for their parlors at home. The scenes are repeated in other places. Even in Schwanden, where the desecrated altarpieces ended up in the Linth.

Glarus divided in two, Zwingli divided in four

The Catholics reacted angrily to this outrage, but were able to do little about it. In the same year, they lost their majority for the first time at the cantonal assembly. The Reformed enforce that newcomers to the canton are also allowed to vote. These so-called "Hintersässen" will vote for the Reformed. But they no longer needed to: the decision on their voting rights was already clear with 115 votes. It is clear who is now in charge: the Reformed. At the following Landsgemeinde, the Catholics leave the ring in protest. In 1530, the Reformed abolished mass altogether and the churches had to be evacuated within 14 days.


The dominance of the Reformed only lasts for a short time. The Confederates clash. The reformed Zurich and Bernese on one side, the Catholic central Swiss on the other. In the First Kappel War in 1529, Amman Aebli from Glarus mediated and prevented bloodshed. Two years later, a battle nevertheless ensued. The Central Swiss win the battle. Zwingli dies. The victors cut his body into quarters, threw the pieces around on the battlefield and burned what was left of him.

St. Catherine with a scratched face

Museum of the State of Glarus, Freulerpalast Näfels

Following the battle, the people of Glarus agree on a compromise: the parishes can decide for themselves whether they want to introduce the Reformation or not. Näfels, Oberurnen and Linthal remain Catholic. No one is forced to convert. The separation will last for 350 years.  


Translation of Ueli Weber's article in Südostschweiz | Saturday, August 6, 2016

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